XFL II

Already in 2019, professional football fans have already seen the AAF (Association of American Football) come and go.  The league’s on-field product was pretty good, but not good enough to stave off an abrupt ending to play prior to the end of its first (and only) regular season. 

A bankruptcy filing followed soon thereafter. 

What did we learn from the “Crash & Burn” AAF this year? 

  1. There are some die-hard fans that are willing to watch a less-than-NFL quality brand of football once the Super Bowl ends. 
  2. Unfortunately, there may not be enough of those fans willing to pay for tickets (even at $20 apiece) to show up in winter conditions (cold and rain) for a minor-league level quality of play.
  3. Don’t play football in cities which can’t fill-up at least half of the stadium.  Ever.  You need television viewers to see that fans of the team are supportive and having a good time.
  4. Don’t televise football games on networks (CBS Sports Network, NFL Network) which aren’t available on most cable and satellite providers.
  5. Expect (and prepare) to lose a ton of money in Year 1 and, likely, in every subsequent year of play thereafter.
  6. Define what your objectives are (a merger with NFL or a peaceful co-existence as the official developmental league for the NFL) in advance and do not lie to your fans about it beginning on Day 1. 
  7. Have all of your league’s funding (in cash and ready to spend) available from Day 1 and expect to lose three times more cash than you initially budgeted.

With all of those harsh lessons learned by the fledgling AAF this spring, it’s time to welcome back the XFL (Version 2.0) beginning the week after the NFL ends play in February, 2020.

What???

Yes, the XFL is returning to try a reboot after its own “One and Done” football season back in 2001. 

Yes, the XFL II will be owned and controlled by the same primary owner, Vince McMahon, who runs the professional wrestling company WWE.

Yes, the XFL (apparently) has plenty of cash as Mr. McMahon has cashed-out a lot of his WWE stock (upwards of $500 million).   My question is whether he has the stomach to see it all disappear in a heartbeat to bankroll the start-up costs to fund his new venture. 

Let’s now examine our “AAF Lessons Learned” questions above as it pertains to the XFL II:

  1. The original XFL (2001) averaged only 23,500 fans per game for games played during the winter and early spring.   The AAF’s average attendance was only about 15,000 per game.  Even though the AAF played in a few smaller markets and the XFL II, fans shouldn’t be expected to sit outside in wet and cold conditions.  I wouldn’t expect a significantly increase in local attendance with XFL II.
  2. What should be the average ticket price to charge fans to watch a winter-time minor-league football?  I think the XLF II will be hard-pressed to sell tickets for more than an average price of $30-40 per seat. 
  3. That said, will enough fans fill the seats to make the viewers at home believe that the on-field product is worth watching?  The XFL II is beginning with eight teams in seven current NFL cities.  On the east coast, there are teams in New York City, Washington DC, and Tampa.  On the west coast, there will be teams in Seattle and Los Angeles.  In the middle, XLF II will begin with teams in Dallas, Houston, and St. Louis (the only market without an NFL team right now).  I have a hard time believing that these NFL communities will support an additional season of minor-league football.
  4. This is the one area where the league benefits from having Vince McMahon as its fearless leader.  With a three year deal, XFL II games (Saturday and Sunday afternoons) will be telecast on ESPN/ABC and Fox Sports/FS 1.   The odd thing, though, is that the networks will not pay the XFL anything (that’s right – zero) for the broadcast rights as the league will apparently “sell” its own share of commercials in a barter-type broadcast arrangement.  From the networks’ perspective, the potential for losses are minimized while the upside is generous. 
  5. How much money will the league lose?  Let’s review the XFL of 2001.  According to reports, the league lost about $70 million during its first and only season.  Vince McMahon lost half of that amount and NBC (the 50/50 partner) lost the other half.  After the debacle of the AAF this spring, I suspect that the XFL II should be prepared to lose at least $100-150 million in Year 1.
  6. What are the goals for the league?  The only thing which the XFL II has said is that it does NOT want to become a developmental league for the NFL.  Got it.  Do they really want to go head-to-head with the NFL at some point?   The American Football League (AFL) went head-to-head with the NFL for ten seasons before a merger deal was worked.  This is quite unlikely as the NFL won’t plant another franchise in seven of the eight markets.  My best guess is that the league (if it survives) will need to be content as “football light” and hope that enough televisions viewers will watch and, in turn, allow the XFL to make recoup losses on the field via television revenues. 
  7. Though it is true that Vince McMahon has sold more than $400 million of his WWE stock, that doesn’t mean he has the willingness to lose all of that money in two or three years.  Other than his fantasy of grabbing his share of revenue from the billions of dollars generated by the NFL, he seems to be a prudent businessman.  Though the XFL II could syphon off less than 10% of McMahon’s net worth, I cannot see him feeding a loser for more than one season.

The XFL II is going to fight an uphill battle against the ghosts of the AAF and its own XFL-Version 1.

The league will have to prove that it has enough fans willing to show-up in person and plunk down their money to watch the games, enough fans willing to watch every week on television, and ownership willing to lose copious amounts of money for at least three seasons to establish credibility.

If the XFL II starts and completes two full seasons, I, too, will be quite surprised.

R.I.P., A.A.F.!

Pit-i-ful!

The Association of American Football (AAF) is now deceased.  

In the graveyards of start-up professional football leagues, the AAF may have set the record for the quickest demise, as the teams had only played eight games of the ten game regular season.

Dallas Cowboys’ owner, Jerry Jones, can now rent his 12,000 seat (that’s right, 12,000 seat) stadium for another venue now that the AAF’s championship game won’t even be played in Frisco, Texas this month.

What happened, you ask?

Money, of course!

Even one of my generation’s most beloved television characters, Jethro Bodine (who graduated from the sixth grade at Potts School in Beverly Hills), could have worked out the math for this new professional football league.

Sure, Jethro may have needed both of his hands to count the proper number of “naughts” of dollars which the new AAF lost during just two months of play.

For new league to have survived, Charlotte billionaire, Tom Dundon (the football league’s equivalent to Jed Clampett who is…correction, WAS…reportedly worth $1.1 billion) would have to continue losing nearly $10 million per week just to keep the new league afloat.

For his generous $250 million financial donation to the AAF, Dundon effectively bought his way to becoming the league’s chairman in week 2.   

Just because you are (oops again, were) a billionaire doesn’t mean that you have all of your money in cash, either.  It’s hard to watch your fortune heading downward when the league had no realistic chance of making a profit anytime soon (if ever). 

Pardon my pun, but “Dundon was done”.

And here’s why.  The chart below (which reflects my best guesses on most items) clearly shows you that a football league which averages 15,000 fans per game at an average net ticket price of $20 was doomed from Day 1:    

SwampSwami’s Best Guess Estimates
Association of American Football (AAF)
Estimated Costs per Team:Annual
Stadium Lease (5 home games/yr)$250,000
Lease – Team HQ/Practice Facilities$250,000
Referees ($2000/game*4/wk*8 wks)$80,000
Players (52 @ $83,333/yr)$4,333,316
Staff – Coaches$2,000,000
Staff – Management$1,000,000
Staff – Ticket sales/Mktg.$250,000
Staff – Stadium GameDay$50,000
Staff – Medical$300,000
Uniforms ($1000/player)$52,000
Travel – Air$150,000
Travel – Hotel$100,000
Travel – Ground Transp.$25,000
Subtotal – Est. Team Expenses$8,840,316
Plus 20% unforeseen costs:$1,768,063
Subtotal – Team Expenses:$10,608,379
Estimated Expenses – 8 Franchises:$84,867,034
Plus – Est. Leaguewide G&A Expenses
Staff – Executives$2,000,000
Staff – Office and support$1,000,000
Insurance (events, players, staff)$1,000,000
Taxes (Fed, State, City)$1,000,000
Marketing/Promotional Costs $1,000,000
Estimated Expenses – League G&A:$6,000,000
Estimated Expenses – Total:$90,867,034
Revenue Summary:
Average Weekly Attendance15,000
Est. RevenuesPer Week
Ticket prices @ $20 each x 4 games/wk$1,200,000
Concessions @ $10 each x 4 games/wk$600,000
Parking @ $10 each x 4 games/wk$600,000
Weekly Game Revenues:$2,400,000
Times 8 weeks of play:8
Est. AAF Game Revenues:$19,200,000
Media – Network Television$2,000,000
Media – Local Radio rights$80,000
Media Revenues: $2,080,000
Franchise Fees – $1 mm/team:$8,000,000
Estimated Revenues – Total:$29,280,000
AAF Summary:
Estimated Net Losses:-$61,587,034
Estimated Net Losses per team:-$7,698,379

Doing my own unofficial creative SwampSwami financial cyphering, even Jed Clampett himself would have been ruined.  Granny might be happy to return to the hills, but the mansion and Ellie May’s ce-ment pond would have been sold by banker Drysdale if Jed Clampett (I mean, Tom Dundon) kept up this charade.     

If the AAF was losing up to $10 million per week, no one (not even Vince McMahon) would have been willing to lose that much money to save the AAF.

Yes, Vince McMahon of WWE fame thinks he can make a go of his XFL (Version 2.0) next spring.  He sold 3 million shares of WWE stock at over $80/share to put about $250 million in his pocket, too. 

Hey, Vince.  You might want to place to a call to the former chairman of the AAF and see how fast you’re going to burn through your money next year! 

Sometimes, personal egos get in the way of common sense.  In the case of a starting-up a competing professional football league, you better bring deep pockets or a large number of equally egotistical and benevolent rich friends on-board very quickly.

So, good-bye AAF!  Though some of us will miss you, not enough of us got to know you, either! 

Though your on-field product was very appealing, your financial management skills were, in the immortal words of Jed Clampett, “Pit-i-ful!”

Sweep-the-SwampCast! March 29, 2019

If you’re over 50 (yes, I am ancient!), you probably remember a country music-oriented comedy television show called “Hee Haw!“? Every week, the cast performed a variation of a funny song called “Gloom, Despair, and Agony on Me!“.

That little ditty sums up my NCAA men’s and women’s basketball brackets! Poof! Gone for another year!

In today’s weekly audio podcast, I’ll discuss the sad state of my college basketball picks, talk about the New Orleans Saints’ rule change “victory” at the NFL owners’ meeting this week, the latest problems for the fledgling AAF league, XFL owner, Vince McMahon, cashes out 3 million shares of WWE stock to fund his new venture, Arizona Cardinals’ coach Cliff Kingsbury’s “Cell Phone Breaks” for NFL players, and the jersey retirement ceremony for Miami Heat basketball player, Chris Bosh.

All of our shows are available to you via Apple Podcasts. Subscribe today – it’s FREE!

Don’t L-AAF! The new football league is good!

When I read that the new Alliance of American Football (AAF) would attempt to complete their football games in no longer than 2 hours and 30 minutes (including overtime), I became quite interested.

In the weekend’s first set of games just one week after the NFL’s “Big Game”, my expectations were low for this latest attempt to provide fans with a professional alternative to the NFL.  Most other attempts have failed, but this league has some potential and, more importantly, terrific timing.      

With only eight teams in the new football league (Arizona Hotshots, Atlanta Legends, Birmingham Iron, Memphis Express, Orlando Apollos, Salt Lake Stallions, San Antonio Commanders, and San Diego Fleet), the league will play a ten game regular season schedule which ends with a championship game in Las Vegas on April 27.

There are several differences between the new AAF and many other failed professional football ventures attempted over the past 45 years.  The deceased leagues included:

XFL – 2001

World League of American Football/NFL Europe – 1991 – 2007

USFL – 1983-1985

American Football Association – 1978-1983

World Football League – 1974-1975

First, the new AAF has the distinct advantage of great timing.  In 2019, there are now several hungry cable sports television providers not named ESPN who are quite willing telecast the AAF’s initial season.  The CBS Sports Network, NFL Network, and TNT will all telecast some of the games. 

These cable competitors are quite aware that King Football’s viewership eclipses any other type of sports programming that they could provide viewers during the late winter/early spring period.

Next, the AAF seems to be quite content to be the “first or second chance into the NFL” league.  More than 70% of the AAF rosters are filled with players who, at one point or another, have made an NFL team.  There are a few familiar football players on nearly every AAF team.

Every player – from quarterback to kicker – in the AAF receives the same base salary and contract.  Currently, it pays $250,000 for three seasons.   

For some players, they may get their next NFL “chance” this summer, and, with it, a higher pay.   For others, receiving $83,000 per year to play a ten-game season on national television isn’t the worst thing, either.

For the AAF, the pay scale makes player salaries a controllable cost of doing business.   With a 52-man roster, that would equate to an annual player payroll of $4.33 million. 

For a point of reference, that also means that it would take nearly six complete AAF teams to match the pay for the New Orleans Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees’ ($25 million) during the 2018 NFL season.

Isn’t capitalism great? 

The AAF features a few nifty fan-friendly rule changes, too. 

There are no kickoffs (the ball is placed at the 25 yard line), no kicked extra points (two-point conversions only), no television time-outs (YES!), and, in the event of overtime, each team will get the ball on the opponent’s ten yard line one time (with a two-point conversion).  If the game remains tied after each team’s possession, the game ends in a tie as the league remains mindful of keeping playing time to no more than two hours and thirty minutes. 

In week one, the attendance at the home openers were in the 20,000-25,000 range.  There was enough home crowd noise so that television audience could easily tell which squad was playing at home.

For an opening weekend, the flow of the games (including referees, Saints fans) went smoothly.  Fans at the stadium and viewers on television saw a very professional product. 

The AAF doesn’t want to be the NFL, but you can definitely see the possibility of the league forming a more friendly association with the NFL as a permanent “developmental” league.

In contrast, the rebooted version of Vince McMahon’s XFL in 2020 seeks to take on the Goliath named the NFL.  That’s another story for another time.

With lower expectations and good execution, the AAF passed the quality assurance test of most fans during week one.  I recommend that you take the time to check it out, too.

This new football league is to be taken seriously for now.    

I’ll give the AAF a solid “B” for the opening weekend as the league delivered what it promised.